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North Shore residents weigh in on potential school bond

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Representatives of CSArch, an engineering and construction management firm based in White Plains, visited the North Shore School District on March 5 to listen to residents’ comments on a potential bond proposal. The tax-neutral bond, if approved, would fund the enhancement of recent safety and security upgrades, infrastructure improvements and the potential redesign of learning spaces in all five schools.

Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said the purpose of the forum was to engage the community in a discussion with administrators and construction managers about what the bond would cover, with attendees offering feedback to the district’s bond steering committee. “That way, we can determine a scope that works for everybody,” Giarrizzo said.

The district will pay off three bonds in the next seven years — in 2018-19, 2023-24 and 2025-26 — which together total almost $39 million, Giarrizzo said. “The budget for the retiring debts will be shifted to offset the yearly principal and interest payment on the proposed bond,” he said. “Ideally, we would be borrowing [money] at the same time [the debt] was falling off.”

Architect Tina Mesiti-Céas and engineer Daryl Mastracci led the presentation, which outlined four priorities of a potential bond: safety and security, instructional space, infrastructure and an “energy performance contract,” a cost-neutral approach to building improvements that reduces energy use while increasing operational efficiency.

“We’re looking at reorganization to better utilize spaces that already exist, developing healthy, safe and efficient solutions for all areas and modern[izing] learning spaces for all students,” Mesiti-Céas said. She added that the exact cost of the project would be considered once the scope is determined.

CSArch has held “visioning” sessions with district stakeholders since last fall to determine what teachers and administrators would like to see in the schools. During visits to each of the buildings, an architectural staff assessed their condition and determined what infrastructure improvements were needed.

“The No. 1 priority of this project,” Mastracci said, “is to further the safety and security in this district and enhance existing systems.” The pair presented an eight-pronged approach to improve safety and security and discussed redeveloping learning spaces with a focus on “four C’s”: collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking.

Former Board of Education President Toni Labbate said she supported the creation of more flexible learning spaces. “There is a lack of space for collaborative learning at the high school, particularly for students in the science research program,” she said. “This bond would be an improvement for all of us — not just administrators and teachers, but for our students and the community members who participate in our schools.”

Maria Mosca, of Sea Cliff, suggested an equal emphasis on outdoor learning spaces. “Climate change is an important line of study,” she said, “and there is nothing like [working in] the outdoors to help with that.”

Many residents raised concerns about the district financing a bond in a time of financial uncertainty, noting the tax impact of the countywide reassessment, the elimination of the income tax deduction for state and local taxes, and New York American Water rates, among other factors.

“This needs to be done with extreme sensitivity,” said Lawrence Ruisi, of Glen Head. “With the current environment, I sense there’s a little bit more resistance, and whatever we can do to get rid of some of those headwinds I think would be very smart.”

Steve Warshaw, of Glen Head, said the focus of the bond should be enhancing the district’s safety and security, and “the quality of the environment of instruction comes second.” Referring to the renderings Mesiti-Céas and Mastracci presented on a screen, Warshaw added, “The cost to retrofit something like that is insane.”

Giarrizzo assured residents that any redesign work included in the bond would promote “a comfortable space that is conducive to learning.” He added that since the bond would be a capital project, the district could be eligible for state aid.

CSArch will present a preliminary project design to the district before the end of the school year. A public referendum for the project is scheduled for November.